4th road trips

Travel is expected to be slightly lighter than last year over the coming Fourth of July weekend, but gas prices are not likely to be a major factor, according to AAA Travel’s 2013 Independence Day holiday forecast.

A projected total 40.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday travel period from Wednesday through Sunday, which is an 0.8 percent decrease from the 41.1 million people who traveled last year.

“Although national travel is expected to be down slightly, we are still seeing an overall upward trend from the decade low of 29.8 million July 4th travelers in 2009,” said Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central.

The decline is mainly due to a shorter 5-day holiday period this year, compared to a 6-day holiday period in 2012 when the Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday. This year the holiday will be celebrated on Thursday.

“It’s not unusual to experience a slight decrease in travelers during years that have a shorter celebratory period,” Lehman added.

AAA officials say gas prices are not likely to be a major factor in travel decisions this holiday. As of mid-June, prices were up an average of two percent compared to the same time in 2012.

But prices remain below their highs of earlier this year. The current national average price for a gallon of regular gas is $3.54, which is 14 cents higher than last year.

Local prices for regular unleaded gasoline had dropped to $3.22 a gallon at the Muskingum Drive Speedway where Fleming resident Diane Webb was topping off her tank late Sunday morning.

“I plan to spend the holiday with my family, so I’m not traveling, but I do wonder whether these gas prices will remain this low all week,” she said.

John and Eleanor Paul of Lowell also questioned how long the lower gasoline costs would last, although they, too, are not planning to travel far from home this holiday weekend.

“We used to go to Akron where we would have a pig roast with some of our family, but we’re all getting older and don’t do that anymore,” said John.

Eleanor said the couple would probably do some bicycle riding along Marietta’s River Trail on the Fourth.

Kevin Baker of Portsmouth said his family would be traveling to Ashland, Ky., on Independence Day to attend his son’s baseball tournament.

The Bakers were in Marietta for a local game at Indian Acres Park Sunday afternoon.

“The gas prices are a little better here. We paid $3.39 a gallon in Portsmouth,” he said.

Akron resident Mari Wilsterman said he planned to spend some of the holiday week with his baby daughter, Olivia, in Marietta.

“I’ll possibly get to see some fireworks back in Akron this weekend,” he said, adding that the trip to Marietta and back costs about $60 in fuel for his Jeep.

Boni McKimmie, who works at the West Virginia welcome center just off I-77 in Williamstown, said many families were already hitting the road Sunday for their Fourth of July holiday trip.

“A lot of them are headed for the beach,” she said. “A total of 1,267 people came through the center during our regular business hours Saturday, and there were 1,314 on Friday.”

McKimmie noted the holiday is on Thursday, but the business at the center has been brisk.

“We haven’t slowed down at all this weekend,” she said. “There seem to be a lot of families with campers coming through, too.”

The Krapohl family, Greta, Graydon, daughter Grace and family dog “Gizmo,” from Ann Arbor, Mich., were having a quick picnic lunch at the welcome center Sunday.

“We’re on our way to Hilton Head, S.C., where some of our family live,” said Graydon. “We pretty much spend every Fourth of July at the beach.”

He said traffic from Ann Arbor was not too bad Sunday, but gasoline prices were much better in this area.

“When we left Michigan gas was around $4 a gallon,” Greta added.

Bill Cheh, Laurel Jenkins, and their 8-month-old, Liam Cheh of Cleveland were also headed for the coast.

“We’re going to Myrtle Beach and will be there for the Fourth of July,” Bill said. “We left home around 9:30 a.m., and just ran into a little traffic around the Akron area.”

He said fuel prices in Cleveland Sunday ranged between $3.07 and $3.14 a gallon.

Columbus resident Jeremy Stokes was traveling back home from a trip with his family Sunday afternoon.

“But we’ll be heading out again for the Fourth,” he said. “The gas prices are really not that bad.”

This year 46 percent of travelers plan to begin their trip prior to the start of the holiday travel period (July 3-7), compared to 65 percent last year, according to AAA Travel.

The agency said the largest share of travelers (32 percent) on a single day will depart Wednesday, and the largest number (38 percent) will return on Sunday.